LAS VEGAS - The last two times Boise State played in the Las Vegas Bowl, there were other places the Broncos wanted to be. Not so on Saturday, when the smallest player on the team came up big in a 28-26 victory over Washington.
After two straight blowouts in the Las Vegas Bowl, the Broncos had to work hard for a win sealed by a 27-yard field goal by 5-foot-5-inch Michael Frisina with 1:16 left. It left them feeling good about a game and a season when, unlike the last two years, there was hardly any talk about Boise State being in a BCS game.
"The most satisfying thing about this season was each week you'd see us get just a little bit better," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "These guys, they don't go through the motions. They have a chip on their shoulder."
The win capped another strong year for the No. 20 Broncos (11-2), who had to overcome a 205-yard rushing game by Bishop Sankey against their normally stingy defense. Sankey also had 74 yards receiving, giving him 279 of Washington's 447 yards from scrimmage.
But it was Frisina who came up with the biggest game of his career in his final game. He kicked three field goals, including the first game winner he could ever recall booting.
"It's every kicker's dream to win a big game with a field goal," Frisina said. "For this one to come on the last game of my career, you couldn't ask for anything more.'
Washington (7-6) had taken the lead for the first time on a 38-yard field goal by Travis Coons with 4:09 left, when No. 20 Boise State got a big kickoff return by freshman Shane Williams-Rhodes to the Washington 42. Joe Southwick guided the team to the 12 before Frisina hit the winning kick.
"I was just focused on what I had to do," Frisina said. "I'm there as the insurance guy, I guess you'd say."
Boise State sealed the win when Jeremy Ioane intercepted Keith Price's pass as the Huskies neared midfield.
"To their credit, they found a way to win the game in the end," said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. "Our inability to finish is pretty glaring."
Sankey, who was third on the depth chart when fall practice began, rushed 30 times and caught six passes in the biggest game of his career. He scored one touchdown and was the MVP of the game, despite being on the losing side.
"There's a lot of mixed emotions going on," Sankey said. "The MVP doesn't mean so much when you come out a loser."
Frisina was only 12 for 17 on field goals coming into the game but kicked three of them, including a 34-yarder to open the scoring that was his first field goal over 30 yards for the year.
Southwick, meanwhile, had another efficient game, completing 26 of 38 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns for a Boise State team that struggled offensively through much of the season before improving over its last three games.
"All year I knew I could play at this level," he said. "It's just a lot of work, a lot of moving parts to put the puzzle together. The last three games it's really showed. We've just been executing at a high level in the offense."
Southwick, a junior who took over from the departing Kellen Moore, also ran for 39 yards and had a punt that pinned Washington near its goal line in the fourth quarter.
Boise State, which outscored Utah and Arizona State 82-24 in its two previous Las Vegas Bowl wins, looked headed for a third straight blowout when Holden Huff scored on a 34-yard pass with 5:25 left in the second quarter for an 18-3 lead. But Sankey scored on a 26-yard run on Washington's next possession, and Price scrambled for another score with three seconds left to make it 18-17 at halftime.
The teams traded long drives in the third quarter, with Boise going 74 yards in 15 plays to open the second half, and Washington responding with a 75-yard, 12-play drive. The Huskies went for a two-point conversion that would have tied it, but the pass was incomplete.
The two teams had met only once before Saturday. They will play in the opener of Washington's new stadium next August.